By ROSHAN THIRAN
Two weeks ago, our entire organisation, Leaderonomics, was forced to work from home as most of the countries we operate in across Asia was in some form of lockdown. Fortunately for us, working from home, was not a big issue as many of us spend a lot of time communicating via virtual tools across our different operations spanning from Singapore to India.
As we enter further into the Restricted Movement Order (RMO) in many, many countries, many businesses throughout the world have taken to host online meetings to ensure their needs continue to be met. I started a work-from-home series on LinkedIn recently where every day, I shared a tip about working from home. (You can access the full series here).
Working from home offers a number of benefits, such as saved time on commutes, no office distractions, cosier environment, and more time spent with family. Currently, we’re all adapting to social distancing and temporary isolation.
Most of us are used to several in-person interactions every day and the general hustle and bustle of working life. Performing our roles at work, it’s understandable that we might feel a sense of loss in connecting with others.
Thankfully, online meeting platforms allow us to connect and catch up, to check in on each other and find out how we’re doing as we continue to work with unfamiliar circumstances. For leaders, it gives us a chance to offer support and guidance as we continue to encourage team members’ development and growth.
Online meetings are a great resource, not least of all because there’s no need to round people up! An email invitation calling people to their laptops and devices at a specific time works wonders in helping to ensure everyone is kept up-to-date on plans of action.
The trouble comes when, from the comfort of our homes and with the need to connect socially, we allow online meetings to drift off in various tangents as several people weigh in on the subject matter with their opinions and perspectives.
This would be great if we all stuck to the matter at hand. However, as anyone who’s taken part in an online meeting will know, people can get caught up in long, winding narratives that would make Leo Tolstoy blush.
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In dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent measures to flatten the curve of the virus, businesses have had to move rapidly to implement systems and procedures that weren’t previously in place. In other words, in times of crisis, there’s often much to do and meetings – while essential – can eat into a lot of time through the week if they’re not managed properly.
Reflecting on how we can make online meetings more efficient, I asked myself, “What’s really essential when it comes to making decisions?” After giving it some thought, I realised there are three key words that can reduce the duration of any meeting and increase its effectiveness at the same time:
What? Who? When? Let’s take a look at each of these in turn:
What’s the purpose of the meeting and what needs to be achieved? Online meetings should have agendas laid out just like conventional meetings. This will help maintain focus on the key issues. What are the key discussion points? What action is to be taken to make progress on those key points?
It’s crucial that tasks (what action?) are clearly assigned to individuals, pairs or groups. All too often, great ideas are discussed, and everyone agrees on the plan of action but…no-one’s sure who’s doing what.
At best, it might require yet another meeting to assign people to each task and, worst-case scenario, everyone simply drifts until the next scheduled meeting where the discussions need to be repeated. So, make sure you know: what needs to be done, and who is doing it.
A task without a deadline is a dead task. In a working week, we all have our to-do tasks, and to deal with all the unexpected things that come up on a daily basis. As a result, we all have moments of forgetfulness of items we were supposed to cross off the list. Usually, this is down to a lack of a deadline.
We have the what and the who, but no specific timeframe, and so any sense of urgency is missing from the equation. Be sure to decide on when actions need to be done by and, if need be, write it down or stick it in your online calendar. This will help to increase our productivity thanks to having a clearly defined structure in place.
When we begin our meetings, we can, of course, engage in small talks and check-in to see how everyone’s doing within the first five minutes or so. After that time, it’s down to business. Remember, time is money. Actually, output is money, and the more time is wasted, the less time there is for delivering on output.
Particularly when it comes to online meetings, there should be a clear agenda and people should be encouraged to share their thoughts. That said, leaders (or senior members) should step in and realign focus if someone is talking too long and going off-topic. Always come back to the what if the focus is lost, clarify key points, and then move on to the who and when.
Unless you’re running a country in a state of war or crisis, there’s probably no need for any meetings to run beyond one hour when it comes to most business decisions. There will be times when complex issues require further discussion, and extra time can be used to accommodate a longer discussion when needed.
But leaders should make sure that meetings are focused, on-point, and conclude with a clear plan of action in place. This will help ensure clear communication, committed action, and swift progress.
Sounds easy? No way. I personally also struggle with this, especially the time management elements, but as we keep doing this we can start getting better. A final point is that it is good to have daily rituals in our meeting. One ritual we practice at Leaderonomics with our teams on a daily basis is to ask 3 simple questions to every direct report we have. They are:
- What have you achieved/accomplished in the last 24 hours?
- What are you going to do/complete in the next 24 hours?
- What are your obstacles that you may have in achieving No. 2?
Rituals like this, if practised daily, will get people prepared for meetings and ready to share. For my meetings now, we have this to an art form due to the standard rituals we practice. But then again, do not let the meetings become boring (as rituals sometimes become!). So have a little fun and be yourself. All the best and be productive!